Friday, June 09, 2006

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project

According to the agenda for the Tuesday, June 13, 2006 meeting of the Oshkosh Common Council, a discussion of the multi-million dollar Five Rivers resort project is listed under the section of "Whatever else is pertinent and for the good of the city." By placing it there, the public has no opportunity to speak on the project or its recent developments - of which there are many, and none, in my opinion, that so far seem to be "for the good of the city" and certainly not in the best interests of its taxpayers. And if they are, we wouldn't know because we have been shut out and essentially dismissed and discounted at every juncture in the two-year-long development of this project, and continue to be even as it nears the final planning stages prior to groundbreaking.

We are said to be partners in this public-private partnership, yet the public - which is being asked to cough up several million dollars in tax-incremental financing and developer assistance grant money - have been shut out by both the developer Tom Doig and our own city administration.

Earlier this evening, my co-host Tony Palmeri, sent an email to members of the Oshkosh Common Council (with a copy going to the media) asking that the discussion item be moved to a place on the agenda that allows the public the opportunity to speak. Or in the alternative, he has asked that citizens be allowed to speak during this section of the agenda, if it is to remain under the "Whatever is pertinent" section. It is only right that we, as the taxpaying partners, have such an opportunity, one way or the other.

Following is the letter Tony sent. I have also sent them an email making a similiar request. Let's hope these requests are honored on behalf of all taxpayers in the city of Oshkosh.
- Cheryl Hentz

Dear Members of the Oshkosh Common Council:

Reading the agenda for the Tuesday meeting, I noticed that a "Five Rivers Update" has been
placed under "Whatever else is pertinent and for the good of the city." Having the update at the point in the meeting prevents citizens from commenting on it. I request that you move to revise the agenda so that the Five Rivers Update be delivered during the Report of the City Manager. This will provide citizens the opportunity to respond.

If the agenda cannot be revised to move the Five Rivers Update to a more citizen friendly part of the agenda, then I request that you allow citizen comments after the "Whatever else is pertinent . . ." section. My concern in all of this is that the Five Rivers project is now on a fast track, with all citizens (including all of you) expected to sit back and just hope that the administration is negotiating a good deal for the city. I find that an unacceptable way to proceed with a project of this magnitude.

I do not have email addresses for Mayor Castle or Mr. McHugh. If you could forward this message on to them I would much appreciate it.

Thank you for your time.
-Tony Palmeri

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Friday, June 09 2006 @ 08:30 PM MDT
Councilwoman Meredith Scheuermann has replied via email to say that the request to move the agenda item or allow citizens to speak during the currently planned portion of the meeting is reasonable. She says that while she will not be able to attend the meeting she will encourage staff beforehand to honor the request. We thank her for that.
- Cheryl

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: oshwi324 on Saturday, June 10 2006 @ 04:33 AM MDT
Cheryl wrote: "yet the public - which is being asked to cough up several million dollars in tax-incremental financing..."Cheryl, I disagree with your wording here. Taxpayers do not have to 'cough up' several millions in money to pay for the TIF. The TIF money is generated by money that WOULD GO to taxes with the new tax 'base,' but instead goes to pay the debt service on the new improvements. The city still receives the same tax money they had in years prior while the land was not developed. City taxpayers aren't out any money, they just don't get the tax money from the specific improvement until the TIF expires. Your description of a TIF is one commonly used as a way to dissuade taxpayers from being in favor of a particular TIF, when in actuality the description itself is wrong. Thanks for letting me clarify.

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Saturday, June 10 2006 @ 08:04 AM MDT
oshwi324, I understand what you are saying, however, if the city needs to bond for any portion of this project - and that is certainly likely - then we are still laying out money for the project up front while not receiving additional tax benefit on the improved land until the TIF expires or closes. That all comes at a cost, not only to the city but also the county and school district. And there are no guarantees that the city will eventually see the full tax benefit. Certainly while most TIFs are successful, we have all seen or heard of ones which failed, just as we have all seen businesses which, for whatever reason, do not pay their taxes. This makes it even more important for the city council to protect our interests to the fullest extent it can.

You said my description of a TIF was "one commonly used as a way to dissuade taxpayers from being in favor of a particular TIF..." I know you think my description or understanding is wrong. Conversely I think the way the city describes a TIF is too overly simplistic and makes it seem like TIFs are created at no cost to the taxpayer at all. I've actually heard people on the city council and in city adminstration, and even Five Rivers developer Tom Doig himself say there are no tax dollars involved in TIFs. That simply is not the case. If there weren't, it would not be called TAX incremental financing. Additionally, if TIFs were nothing but good, I doubt seriously the state would put restrictions on how much of a percentage of a city's value can be tied up in TIFs; nor would they have prohibited places like townships, for example, from participation. There is money layed out up front and there is risk. We should not give developers the option of deciding for themselves whether they have a "direct pay" or "pay as you go" TIF.

These are decisions a judicious city council must make in order to protect the taxpayers. And if, as we're now being told, there are risk mitigators that can be built into either option sufficient enough to adequately protect us, then why would the "pay as you go" option ever have been created? And why did Jackson Kinney tell the city council last year that the "pay as you go" method of financing was his preferred method?

Something stinks here and if everything is above board, I maintain we should not have been shut out of the project. As a way of helping folks understand TIFs, here is an explanation by a citizen advocacy group, of exactly how TIFs work:"When TIF is created, the equalized assessed valuations (EAVs) on which property taxes are based are considered "frozen" at a "base EAV level." Generally, the city borrows money by issuing bonds. "The money is then used to make the land designated as a TIF more attractive through improvements in infrastructure and public utilities, and to provide services such as land clearance. These improvements are supposed to be used to attract developers who otherwise would not have been interested in or capable of developing the TIF land. "As the TIF develops and the land is improved, the equalized assessed value is supposed to increase to reflect these improvements, and this increase in equalized assessed value over the base level at the time of the creation of TIF is called the increment. The base EAV revenues continue to go to the taxing bodies serving the TIF area, but any rise in revenues goes into a municipal fund to pay off the municipality's debt and expenses incurred for development. "Property tax revenues to local taxing bodies, such as school districts, remain at the base level for the entire length of the TIF, which may continue up to 30 years. Ideally, after the TIF project is complete, the developed land increases the tax base for all of the taxing bodies within the area. " Once the debt and expenses are retired, the incremental EAV becomes available to all of the taxing bodies. If an area is truly blighted and no development would occur without the TIF, all the taxing districts stand to gain from a TIF because their tax base will eventually experience improvements that would not have otherwise occurred. If, however, the EAV is rising naturally, or the property would have been improved without a TIF, then the taxing bodies within the area are losing the EAV that would have otherwise been theirs."

- Cheryl

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Tuesday, June 13 2006 @ 07:31 AM MDT
[We received the following posting from councilman Bryan Bain in another section of this web site, but wanted to repost it for people here. Again, many thanks to Bryan for seeing that the public gets a chance to comment on the latest developments with the Five Rivers project.]

Authored by: blbain on Monday, June 12 2006 @ 09:24 PM MDT
Cheryl-I am happy to report that Mayor Castle has agreed with my request to move "Whatever Else is Pertinent or for the Good of the City," which will be an update on Five Rivers, to before "Citizen Statements" so that citizens will have an opportunity to speak on the issue and comment on the update.
---Bryan L. Bain